A War Bread in a Modern Cookbook: Oat Bread

WW1 poster: Little Americans. Do your bit.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been baking a “war bread” for quite a while.  My long-time favorite one-day bread is the oat bread in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The original recipe is simple, delicious and nutritious, being a single-day bread that is enriched with rolled oats and oat bran.  By weight, the dry ingredients are 53% white flour, 20% whole wheat flour, 26% rolled oats and oat bran, a composition that would probably be considered “war bread.”

Polishing the Recipe with a Poolish
For a while, I used the recipe in Madison’s book as written, and although it usually resulted in a decent loaf, it could be undesirably crumbly and dense (characteristics not uncommon for simple breads containing whole grains).  To reduce the brick factor, I added a trick from Emily Buehler’s Bread Science book:  beginning with a “preferment,” a mixture of flour, water and yeast called a poolish (its relatives include the sponge and the biga).  This mixture rests at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours, building flavor and structure.

As the poolish rests, good things happen:  the flour starts to hydrate, flavor-producing fermentation begins, gluten starts to develop (even as the poolish sits still), enzymes called proteases start breaking down the proteins in the flour, and the acidity level increases (this makes mixing easier). More details on these effects are in the Preferments chapter in Bread Science.

Ad for Lincoln Oat.Buehler says that a basic dough recipe that doesn’t have a pre-ferment can be modified to start with a poolish using the following formula:  combine one-third of the recipe’s flour, an equal weight of water (not volume), and a small amount of yeast (~1/8 t.) in a bowl and mix thoroughly (I usually use the mixing bowl from my KitchenAid stand mixer to reduce the number of dirty dishes by one).  It will be quite wet, a little thicker than pancake batter.  Cover the bowl and set aside for 8-24 hours. After this fermentation, the poolish will be bubbly and fragrant. Then, when mixing the dough, reduce the water and flour to account for the amount in the poolish and also use 2/3 the amount of yeast.  For example, the original oat bread recipe had 125 g whole wheat flour, 325 g white flour and 365 g water, so the poolish should consist of 42 g whole wheat flour (1/3 * 125), 108 g white flour (1/3 * 325), and 150 g water (42 + 108).  During the final mix, you add 83 g whole wheat flour (= 125 – 42), 217 g white flour (= 325 – 108) and 215 g water (= 365 – 150).

Recipe:  Oat Bread
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, with help from Bread Science by Emily Buehler.


110 g Whole-wheat flour
90 g bread or all-purpose white flour
200 g room temperature water
1/8 t. yeast

Poolish (recipe above)
300 g warm water
2 1/4 t yeast
60 g honey
33 g soft butter or oil
2 t salt
60 g Whole-wheat flour
130 g rolled oats
80 g oat or wheat bran
340 g bread or all-purpose white flour (plus a little more if needed)
Optional:  about 100 g pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

Makes two standard loaves

Make the poolish:  combine the ingredients in the mixing bowl you will use for the dough  (e.g., a KitchenAid bowl) and mix with a spoon until thoroughly combined.  Cover and let sit for 12-24 hours.

Make the dough:  If you are using instant yeast (the kind that doesn’t need to be dissolved in liquid), you will add it with the first batch of dry ingredients.  If you are using regular active dry yeast, you will mix it into the wet ingredients at the beginning.

To the fermented poolish, add the water, honey, butter or oil, and salt (and non-instant yeast).  Stir to combine.

Add the whole-wheat flour, rolled oats, and bran (and instant yeast).  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.

Add the white flour, and knead for 4 to 5 minutes (using medium setting on a stand mixer).  The dough should be a little sticky, but hold together as a mass.  Add a little more flour if it is really sticking to the walls of the bowl. If adding pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, add them to the dough and knead for until combined.

Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover.  Let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled.

Grease two standard loaf pans (5″ x 9″).

Punch down the dough and shape into two loaves.  Place them in the prepared loaf pans.  Cover and let rise for 45-60 minutes.  Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.  During the last 30 minutes (45 minutes if using a pizza stone or bricks), preheat the oven to 375 F.

Make 2-3 cross-slashes or one longitudinal slash on the loaf just before baking.

Place the loaf pan on the rack.  If using a pizza stone or brick, place the loaf pan directly on the stone.  Bake for about 45 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through.

Image Credits:  Little Americans poster from the U.S. National Archives in the Flickr Commons, ca. 1918, public domain;  Lincoln Oat advertisement from “Garden flower and field seeds 1902” viaInternet Archive Book Images in the Flickr Commons, public domain.

Random link from the archive:  Coffee Storage:  Which Method is Best?

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